Firefighters suspended over racial slur

HOUSTON Three firefighters are off the job unless they win an appeal, which they all have filed.

After a six-month-long investigation that started with three firefighters at Station 55, Mayor Annise Parker says it was time for the fire department to take a stand.

"This was an on-duty incident that is inexcusable, and I support the fire chief in his decision," Parker said.

That decision was made official in letters of discipline obtained Wednesday by Eyewitness News. Firefighters Spencer Allred, Randal Ricks and Ryan Smith are all indefinitely suspended.

It's harsh action for what started with two words, one offensive.

"We have to put a stop to this," Parker said.

It all stems from a medical emergency call back in March. According to city records, the three firefighters were transporting a patient to the hospital and in the narrative of their report, all that was typed was a racial slur.

In a statement to Eyewitness News, the department wrote, "Use of such language...constitutes a violation of public trust and will not be tolerated."

Firefighter Union President Jeff Caynon believes considering the department's recent problems, something else is at work.

"They decided the better course of action politically and the better PR choice was to be able to stand up in front of you and say, 'We fired them,'" Caynon said.

He sat through the disciplinary hearings for all three firefighters and says the department had no definitive proof any of them typed the slur, even though it came from their computer. While he is offended by the word, he's more offended by this outcome.

"The chief made the decision to fire three people in the hopes that he got the one person who did it in the absence of evidence that any of them did it," Caynon said.

"If the firefighter who did this would stand up and acknowledge his action, we wouldn't be punishing two innocent firefighters, but we had to take a stand," Parker said.

Two were offered 60-day suspensions but instead chose indefinite suspension; the union president says they made that decision because they couldn't take the fall for something they didn't do.

We did try to contact all three but were not successful.

Spencer Allred's letter of discipline:

Randal Ricks' letter of discipline: Ryan Smith's letter of discipline:

Statement from the Houston Fire Department:

    "The Houston Fire Department confirms that disciplinary action was taken against three members regarding an incident in which a racial epithet was entered into an emergency medical record. The discipline was administered following due process for the members. Use of such language as described in the related complaint constitutes a violation of public trust and will not be tolerated by the Houston Fire Department.

    One member received an indefinite suspension. Two other members were offered 60-day suspensions in lieu of indefinite suspension. Both chose indefinite suspension. All three are afforded the opportunity to appeal to a hearing examiner, as specified by contract. All three have chosen to appeal."

Statement from Houston Professional Firefighters Association

    "The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association announced today it will immediately appeal the firings of three Houston Fire Department firefighters after a city investigation failed to identify who added a racially insensitive comment to an electronic patient care record several months ago.

    Late Tuesday, Acting Fire Chief Rick Flanagan "indefinitely suspended" the firefighters from Station 55. The firings will be appealed today to an independent hearing examiner, the HPFFA said.

    HPFFA President Jeff Caynon stated, "This inept city investigation -- which could not identify who wrote the comment -- caused yet another injustice for Houston firefighters and their families. Firing three people for the despicable actions of a single person is legally and morally wrong."

    When abusive investigative tactics by the city Office of Inspector General failed, Caynon said, Flanagan simply fired all three firefighters after they refused to admit to the city's allegations and rejected 60-day suspensions. The HPFFA alleges city investigators repeatedly violated state law by denying the firefighters access to HPFFA or legal representation during questioning. The firefighters were questioned for up to six hours at a time.

    Caynon added, "It's ironic that one of Rick Flanagan's final acts as acting chief was to protect a firefighter who was videotaped allegedly committing a crime in an HFD uniform yet he then fired firefighters after an investigation that proved nothing -- except his willingness to destroy the reputations or careers of men whose innocence or guilt he cannot determine. We are troubled by the city's pattern of treatment of firefighters in recent high-profile investigations -- from the debunked 'noose' incident last year to the alleged HFD Station 54 graffiti incident and now this travesty."

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